Oscar Actors: Occupational Inheritance and Mobility in the Acting Profession (Best Actor Winners)

Research in Progress (March 2021)

Occupational Inheritance in the Acting Profession

Occupational inheritance refers to the phenomenon where sons and daughters follow in the career paths of their parents.

This trend has been documented in the professions of engineering, medicine, military, and education.

Our essay examines the extent of occupational inheritance in the acting profession by focusing on Oscar winning actors.

Over the past 92 years of the Academy Awards (first given in 1929), 83 men have won the Best Actor Oscar (some more than once).



BEST ACTOR WINNERS: 83 (Last Name, A to Z)


Abraham, Murray F.: working class; father auto mechanic; mother housewife


Affleck, Casey: working-middle class; mother teacher; father janitor; child actor; brother, Ben Affleck


Arliss, George: (UK) middle class; worked in publishing office of his father, but left at age 18 to go on the stage.


Barrymore, Lionel: occup. inheritance; siblings actors


Baxter, Warner: working class, father owner of cigar stand, Columbus, Ohio


Beery, Wallace: middle class, father police officer; brother actor; son actor


Benigni, Robert: Italian; working class; mother fabric maker, father bricklayer, carpenter, and farmer


Bogart, Humphrey: upper middle; father surgeon; mother commercial illustrator


Borgnine, Ernest: working class, son of Italian immigrants; factory work


Brando, Marlon: occup. inheritance; mother actress and theater administrator; father pesticide and chemical feed manufacturer; sister actress


Bridges, Jeff: occup. inheritance; father actor, brother actor


Brody, Adrien: upper-middle; mother photographer, father, retired history professor and painter


Brynner, Yul: Middle; father mining engineer and inventor


Cage, Nicolas: upper-middle; father prof. of literature (uncle Coppola)


Cagney, James: working class; father bartender and amateur boxer


Carney, Art: middle class; father newspaper man and publicist


Colman, Ronald: (UK) middle class; father, silk merchant


Cooper, Gary: upper middle; father prominent lawyer, rancher, Montana Supreme Court justice


Crawford, Broderick: Occup. inheritance: parents, grandparents vaudeville performers


Crowe, Russell: film set caterers; father also hotel manager


Crosby, Bing: middle class; father bookkeeper


Day-Lewis, Daniel: UK; father poet laureate


De Niro, Robert: father painter


DiCaprio, Leonardo: Middle class; mother legal secretary; father underground comix writer, publisher, and distributor of comic books.


Donat, Robert: (UK): upper middle; father civil engineer of German origin


Douglas, Michael: occup. inheritance; father actor


Dreyfuss, Richard: upper-middle; attorney, restaurateur and the owner of a plastics company


Dujardin, Jean: (French) father, construction company


Duvall, Robert: mother amateur actress, father U.S. Navy rear admiral


Ferrer, Jose: upper-middle; father, attorney and author


Finch, Peter: father, Indian army officer; product of divorce


Firth, Colin (UK): upper middle; both parents academics and lecturers


Fonda, Henry: middle class; father printer


Foxx, Jamie (black): biological father, stockbroker; adopted by yard worker and nursery operator


Gable, Clark: working class; father oil-well driller


Guinness, Alec (UK): Scottish banker?


Hackman, Gene: middle class; father operated printing press for local paper


Hanks, Tom: middle class; father itinerant cook, mother hospital worker


Harrison, Rex (UK):  Middle class; father cotton broker


40. Heston, Charlton: Middle class; sawmill operator


Hoffman, Dustin: Middle; father worked as prop supervisor, set decorator at Columbia, then furniture salesman.


Hoffman, Philip Seymour: Upper-middle; mother elementary school teacher, lawyer, family court judge; father worked for Zerox Corp.


Holden, William: Upper-middle; mother schoolteacher, father industrial chemist


Hopkins, Anthony (Welsh): working class, father baker


Hurt, William: Upper middle; father state department; mother publishing


Irons, Jeremy (UK): Middle class; father accountant


Jannings, Emil (German): Middle; father American businessman


Kingsley, Ben (UK): mother actress and model; father doctor


Lancaster, Burt: working class; father mailman


50. Laughton, Charles (UK) Middle; hotel keepers


Lemmon, Jack: father, president of Doughnut Corporation of America


Lukas, Paul: (Hungarian): adopted by advertising executive


McConaughey, Matthew: Middle; kindergarten teacher and published author; father ran an oil pipe supply business


McLaglen, Victor: middle; missionary and bishop


Malek, Rami: father Egyptian immigrant; travel agent, then insurance agent


March, Fredric: Middle class; mother schoolteacher from England, father worked in the wholesale hardware business.


Marvin, Lee: No Data


Milland, Ray: Middle; steel mill superintendent


Muni, Paul: Occup. Inheritance; parents actors


60. Newman, Paul: Middle; father sporting goods store


Nicholson, Jack: parents in showbusiness


Niven, David (UK): No Data


Oldman, Gary (UK): working class; father former sailor, also a welder


Olivier, Laurence (UK): upper-middle; father clergyman, then Reverent


Pacino, Al: (Son of Italian immigrants) Middle class; insurance salesman and restauranteur


Peck, Gregory: Upper middle; chemist and pharmacist


Penn, Sean: occup. inheritance; father actor


Phoenix, Joaquin: father landscape architect; mother exec secretary (TV); all his siblings are actors


Poitier, Sidney (black): Lower; parents farmers from Bahama


70.Redmayne, Eddie (UK): Upper middle; mother runs relocation business; father businessman in corporate finance


Robertson, Cliff: Upper middle; idle heir (rancher)


Rush, Geoffrey (Aussie): Middle, mother, department store sales assistant, father accountant for Royal Australian Air Force


Schell, Maximillian (Swiss): Occup. inherit; mother, actress who ran acting school; father, Swiss poet, novelist, playwright and pharmacy owner.


Scofield, Paul (UK): Upper middle; father, headmaster at the Hurstpierpoint Church of England School


Scott, George C.: Upper middle; father exec at Buick


Spacey, Kevin: Middle; mother secretary; father technical writer and data consultant.


Steiger, Rod:  Occup. inherit; vaudevillian, part of traveling song-and-dance team (never knew his father)


Stewart, Jimmy: Middle; hardware store owner


Tracy, Spencer: Middle; truck salesman


80. Voight, Jon: Middle; professional golfer


Washington, Denzel (black): Middle; mother, beauty parlor owner; father, minister, employee of NYC Water Department and worked at local ddepartment store.


Wayne, John: Middle; father pharmacist


Whitaker, Forest (black): Middle; father insurance salesman, mother special education teacher

Best Actors: Occupational Inheritance

Occupational inheritance is not prevalent among male actors: Only 10 out of 83 had showbusiness origins

Lionel Barrymore, Brando, Bridges, Crawford, Michael Douglas, Muni, Nicholson, Sean Penn, Maximillian Schell, Rod Steiger

Best Actors: British (Britain, Irish, Welsh):

16 of the 83 (about 20 percent)